Government must go further on reforms to end scandal of vulnerable people in secure units – Hunt

Mental health reforms must go further to address the “scandal” of vulnerable people being “effectively incarcerated” in secure institutions, a former health secretary has urged.

Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt (pictured) suggested changing the rules on sectioning people to ensure regular weekly or fortnightly assessments on whether someone should remain in a secure unit or be treated in the community.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid offered to meet with Mr Hunt to discuss the proposals after he earlier pledged to change a system that results in “too many” autistic people and people with learning disabilities being admitted into institutional settings.

Their exchanges came as Mr Javid confirmed details of the Government’s draft Mental Health Bill.

This includes changing the law so that neither learning disability nor autism should be considered reasons to detain someone for treatment.

Instead, people with a learning disability or autistic people will be detained for treatment only if a mental health condition is identified by clinicians, according to the Department for Health and Social Care.

The reforms also seek to address the fact that a disproportionate amount of people from black, Asian and ethnic minority communities are detained under the Mental Health Act.

Making a statement to the Commons, Mr Javid said: “It limits the scope to detain people with learning disabilities and autistic people for treatment unless they have a mental illness that justifies a longer stay or if they are admitted through the criminal justice system.”

Mr Hunt, who chairs the health and social care select committee, said he supported “wholeheartedly” what Mr Javid said in his statement but added: “I am worried that in one particular instance it doesn’t go far enough, which is that we still have 2,000 with autism and learning disabilities who are in secure institutions, effectively incarcerated, even though they would be better off in the community.

“It is a human rights scandal. Would he consider, as part of the remedy to this, changing the rules on sectioning so after a short period of time you have to reapply for sectioning every week or two weeks if you want to keep someone in one of those secure units so there is pressure put on the system to find a better solution?”

Mr Javid responded: “We are determined, of course, to reduce the number of people with learning disabilities and autism that are in mental health hospitals.

“As part of those plans we will shortly be publishing the cross-Government Building the Right Support Plan to drive this progress. So, we will have more to say about that shortly.”

For Labour, shadow minister for mental health Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said of the Government: “They have failed on eradicating dormitories from mental health facilities. They have failed in cracking down on the use of restraint and they have failed on getting on top of waiting times.

“We cannot have this kicked into the long grass and if it gets lost in the political quagmire of Conservative infighting should they call an early general election, people will suffer.”

She added: “In 2020 there were over 470,000 calls to 999 because someone was in a mental health crisis and this took up an estimated 66,000 hours of call time.”

She spoke of “numerous examples from across the country where children were stuck in A&E for over 24 hours simply awaiting a mental health bed and even one child who waited over three days”.

“When I work shifts in A&E I see more and more people coming into hospital in crisis and this increased frequency is deeply, deeply concerning. Conditions are getting worse and illnesses are going untreated.”

Conservative former prime minister Theresa May welcomed the publication of the draft Bill and said while it is necessary for it to be given “proper scrutiny”, that “we need to ensure we get these new provisions on the statute book as quickly as possible”.

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